Thursday, March 09, 2006

Abramoff Details Relationship With Bush, DeLay, Burns

Okay so I'm not normally a Vanity Fair kind of guy, but I might have to pick this issue up.

Abramoff Interview: Lobbyist Details Relationship With Bush, DeLay, Burns
ThinkProgress.com

Wednesday 08 March 2006

Vanity Fair is set to publish an in-depth interview with disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff. Abramoff sheds new light on his close relationships with top conservatives, including some not typically associated with the Abramoff scandals like Ken Mehlman and Newt Gingrich. Some choice quotes:

On President Bush:

President Bush, who claims not to remember having his picture taken with Abramoff. According to Abramoff, at one time, the president joked with Abramoff about his weight lifting past: "What are you benching, buff guy?"

On former Rove deputy Ken Mehlman:

According to documents obtained by Vanity Fair, Mehlman exchanged e-mail with Abramoff, and did him political favors (such as preventing Clinton administration alumnus Allen Stayman from keeping a State Department job), had Sabbath dinner at Abramoff's house, and offered to pick up Abramoff's tab at Signatures, Abramoff's own restaurant.

On Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas):

Abramoff has "admired Tom DeLay and his family from the first meeting with him," he tells Margolick. "We would sit and talk about the Bible. We would sit and talk about opera. We would sit and talk about golf," Abramoff recalls. "I mean, we talked about philosophy and politics."

On Newt Gingrich:

Newt Gingrich, whose spokesman Rick Tyler tells Margolick that "Before [Abramoff's] picture appeared on TV and in the newspapers, Newt wouldn't have known him if he fell across him. He hadn't seen him in 10 years." A rankled Abramoff says "I have more pictures of [Newt] than I have of my wife."

On Sen. Conrad Burns (R-Montana):

Abramoff says: "Every appropriation we wanted [from Burns's committee] we got. Our staffs were as close as they could be. They practically used Signatures as their cafeteria. I mean, it's a little difficult for him to run from that record."

Despite the magnitude of his crimes, however, Abramoff says that imprisoning him would only deprive society of his teaching and/or janitorial talents:

Abramoff ... tells [Vanity Fair] that sending him to prison is "stupid," saying, "Let me teach English, history, music. Or let me sweep floors at the reservation. Instead you'll be paying to feed me to sit in a jail."

Posted by crimnos @ 8:07 AM :: (0) comments

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

White House "Agrees" to New Wiretap "Regulations"

"White House". So what's to stop them from just ignoring this law like they did the old one, or even flat-out stating that they're not bound by it? Hm...let me consider...nothing, right? The Bush administration will continue to do whatever they want, and Congress will never do anything about it (well, until there's a Democratic Congress...I pray ("pray")).

WASHINGTON, March 7 — Moving to tamp down Democratic calls for an investigation of the administration's domestic eavesdropping program, Republicans on the Senate Intelligence Committee said Tuesday that they had reached agreement with the White House on proposed bills to impose new oversight but allow wiretapping without warrants for up to 45 days.

Democrats had wanted a full committee inquiry. Among them were Senators Carl Levin, left, and John D. Rockefeller IV, center, with aide.

The agreement, hashed out in weeks of negotiations between Vice President Dick Cheney and Republicans critical of the program, dashes Democratic hopes of starting a full committee investigation because the proposal won the support of Senators Chuck Hagel of Nebraska and Olympia J. Snowe of Maine. The two, both Republicans, had threatened to support a fuller inquiry if the White House did not disclose more about the program to Congress.

"We are reasserting Congressional responsibility and oversight," Ms. Snowe said.

The proposed legislation would create a seven-member "terrorist surveillance subcommittee" and require the administration to give it full access to the details of the program's operations.

Ms. Snowe said the panel would start work on Wednesday, and called it "the beginning, not the end of the process."

"We have to get the facts in order to weigh in," she said. "We will do more if we learn there is more to do."

The agreement would reinforce the authority of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which was created in 1978 to issue special warrants for spying but was sidestepped by the administration. The measure would require the administration to seek a warrant from the court whenever possible.

If the administration elects not to do so after 45 days, the attorney general must certify that the surveillance is necessary to protect the country and explain to the subcommittee why the administration has not sought a warrant. The attorney general would be required to give an update to the subcommittee every 45 days.

Democrats called the deal an abdication of the special bipartisan committee's role as a watchdog, saying the Republicans had in effect blessed the program before learning how it worked or what it entailed.

"The committee is, to put it bluntly, basically under the control of the White House," said Senator John D. Rockefeller IV, the West Virginia Democrat who is vice chairman of the panel.

The House Intelligence Committee said last week that it would seek limited briefings for some panel members so that they could weigh changes to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, but the Republican leaders of the House committee stopped far short of proposing the kind of continuing oversight and rules changes that the Senate committee has settled on. A spokeswoman for the White House, Dana Perino, called the Republican senators' proposal "a generally sound approach."

"We're eager to work with Congress on legislation that would further codify the president's authority," Ms. Perino said. "We remain committed to our principle, that we will not do anything that undermines the program's capabilities or the president's authority."

Republicans on the committee, however, emphasized the administration's resistance to the accord. Senator Pat Roberts, the Kansas Republican who is chairman of the Intelligence Committee and helped broker the deal, called it "the agreement we insisted upon."

Ms. Snowe said the proposal had met "considerable reluctance" from the White House in negotiations.

The committee had scheduled a vote on a full investigation for Tuesday afternoon if there was no accord with the White House to disclose more about the program. As of midday, no resolution had been reached.

Mr. Hagel said the group worked out the last-minute deal in long telephone calls with Mr. Cheney; the White House counsel, Harriet E. Miers; and Stephen J. Hadley, the assistant to the president for national security.

The proposed bill would allow the president to authorize wiretapping without seeking a warrant for up to 45 days if the communication under surveillance involved someone suspected of being a member of or a collaborator with a specified list of terrorist groups and if at least one party to the conversation was outside the United States.

The administration has provided some information in confidential briefings to a "Gang of Eight" lawmakers made up of the Republican and Democratic leaders of the House and the Senate, as well as their respective Intelligence Committees. Republican sponsors of the proposal said the new subcommittees would greatly improve lawmakers' ability to obtain digest information because the staffs for the first time would have access to it.

Senator Mike DeWine, the Ohio Republican who helped draft the proposal, said it would bring the program "into the normal oversight of the Senate intelligence committee."

But Senator Ron Wyden, Democrat of Oregon, compared the proposed bill to a doctor's diagnosis of an unexamined patient.

"Congress doesn't have that great a history in reforming programs it knows a lot about," Mr. Wyden said. "Here Congress is trying to legislate in the dark."

Senator Bill Frist, Republican of Tennessee, the majority leader, issued a statement supporting the proposal.

It is not clear whether all the Republican critics will back the deal. Senator Arlen Specter, the Pennsylvania Republican who is chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has said Congress should seek a court ruling on the legitimacy of the program in addition to new oversight.

In a separate Senate committee hearing on Tuesday, Mr. Specter said, "We're having quite a time in getting responses to questions as to what has happened with the electronic surveillance program."

He said he put the administration "on notice" he might seek to block its financing if Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales did not give more information.

Mr. Specter said in statement later that he hoped for a solution that would avoid resorting to such an extreme action.

Posted by crimnos @ 8:44 AM :: (0) comments

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Investigation into Wiretapping Stillborn

Great job, Congress. You're doing a real bang-up job of representing the will of the Bush Admin...I mean, American people. I just weep. From Kos:

The Senate Intelligence Committee voted today not to investigate the crimes of President George W. Bush. Instead, it will create a subcommittee for "oversight" of the illegal eavesdropping program. Senator Snowe was telling Americans as of Friday that yes, she would vote in favor of the Senator Rockefeller's proposal to conduct a full inquiry into the program. Today, she voted against it. Senator Rockefeller had this to say after the committee's vote:

``This committee is basically under control of the White House,'' Rockefeller told reporters after the two-hour meeting today in Washington. ``It's an unprecedented bout of political pressure from the White House.''

Unprecedented indeed. The administration is threatening members of Congress, it is strong-arming them like never before--in short, like a cornered animal it has pulled out every last stop, every last fang and growl to dissuade Congress from investigating this matter. The inference is obvious: the more fervent the desire to cover up, the more heinous the crime.

This is not just a surveillance program. This is not just data-mining. There is something much greater here beneath the surface, an action that not only runs afoul our Constitutional rights, but that undermines the very core of our democracy.

This is not the end of the road. Attorney General Gonzales is likely to be recalled to the Senate Judiciary Committee. Several lawsuits are well underway. And when the truth is exposed, Senator Snowe, Senator Hagel, and every Republican member of Congress who has assisted in this cover-up will be exposed as aiders and abetters to one of the most fundamental betrayals of the American people.

Posted by crimnos @ 8:09 PM :: (3) comments

Conservative Jews to Consider Ending a Ban on Same-Sex Unions and Gay Rabbis

Huh, interesting. Don't really have too much to add on this other than I think it's a good step, and wanted to share...

Conservative Jews to Consider Ending a Ban on Same-Sex Unions and Gay Rabbis
By LAURIE GOODSTEIN

In a closed-door meeting this week in an undisclosed site near Baltimore, a committee of Jewish legal experts who set policy for Conservative Judaism will consider whether to lift their movement's ban on gay rabbis and same-sex unions.

In 1992, this same group, the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards, declared that Jewish law clearly prohibited commitment ceremonies for same-sex couples and the admission of openly gay people to rabbinical or cantorial schools. The vote was 19 to 3, with one abstention.

Since then, Conservative Jewish leaders say, they have watched as relatives, congregation members and even fellow rabbis publicly revealed their homosexuality. Students at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York City, the movement's flagship, began wearing buttons saying "Ordination Regardless of Orientation." Rabbis performed same-sex commitment ceremonies despite the ban.

The direction taken by Conservative Jews, who occupy the centrist position in Judaism between the more liberal Reform and the more strict Orthodox, will be closely watched at a time when many Christian denominations are torn over the same issue. Conservative Judaism claims to distinguish itself by adhering to Jewish law and tradition, or halacha, while bending to accommodate modern conditions.

"This is a very difficult moment for the movement," said Rabbi Joel H. Meyers, a nonvoting member of the law committee and executive vice president of the Rabbinical Assembly, which represents the movement's 1,600 rabbis worldwide.

"There are those who are saying, don't change the halacha because the paradigm model of the heterosexual family has to be maintained," said Rabbi Meyers, a stance he said he shared. "On the other hand is a group within the movement who say, look, we will lose thoughtful younger people if we don't make this change, and the movement will look stodgy and behind the times."

Several members of the law committee said in interviews that while anything could happen at their meetings on Tuesday and Wednesday, there were more than enough votes to pass a legal opinion (a teshuvah in Hebrew) that would support opening the door to gay clergy members and same-sex unions. The law committee has 25 members, but only six votes are required to validate a legal opinion.

Committee members who oppose a change may try to argue that the decision is so momentous that it falls into a different category and requires many more than six votes to pass, even as many as 20, the members said. Other members may argue that no vote should be taken because the committee and the movement are too divided.

The committee may even adopt conflicting opinions, a move that some members say would simply acknowledge the diversity in Conservative Judaism. The committee's decisions are not binding on rabbis but do set direction for the movement.

"I don't think it is either feasible or desirable for a movement like ours to have one approach to Jewish law," said Rabbi Gordon Tucker of Temple Israel Center, in White Plains, a committee member who has collaborated with three others on a legal opinion advocating lifting the prohibition on homosexuality.

Even if the five Conservative rabbinical schools — in New York, Los Angeles, Jerusalem, Buenos Aires and Budapest — adopted different approaches, Rabbi Tucker said, "I don't think that would necessarily do violence to the movement."

The Conservative movement was long the dominant one in American Judaism, but from 1990 to 2000 its share of the nation's Jews shrank to 33 percent from 43 percent, according to the National Jewish Population Survey. In that same period, the Reform movement's share jumped to 39 percent, from 35, making it the largest, while Orthodox grew to 21 percent, from 16 percent. Estimates are difficult, but there are five to six million Jews in the United States.

Jonathan D. Sarna, a professor of American Jewish history at Brandeis University and author of "American Judaism: A History," said, "In the 1950's when Americans believed everybody should be in the middle, the Conservative movement was deeply in sync with a culture that privileged the center. What happens as American society divides on a liberal-conservative axis is that the middle is a very difficult place to be."

Rabbi Meyers, vice president of the Rabbinical Assembly, said he worried that any decision on homosexuality could cause Conservative Jews to migrate to either Reform, which accepts homosexuality, or Orthodoxy, which condemns it. But Dr. Sarna said some studies suggested that many Jews who were more traditional began abandoning the Conservative movement more than 20 years ago, when it began ordaining women.

Few congregants are as preoccupied about homosexuality as are their leaders, said Rabbi Burton L. Visotzky, a professor of Talmud and interreligious studies at the Jewish Theological Seminary, who spends weekends at synagogues around the country as a visiting scholar.

"There are so many laws in the Torah about sexual behavior that we choose to ignore, so when we zero in on this one, I have to wonder what's really behind it," Rabbi Visotzky said.

Posted by crimnos @ 9:44 AM :: (1) comments

Monday, March 06, 2006

U.S. Cites Exception in Torture Ban

Wow...just check this out. This is some repugnant shit. Is it now just accepted that we're torturing people? I mean, I don't even see the Bush Administration making even a token effort to say we're not anymore...now it's all about why we have to torture...er...I mean, "Freedom tickle".

U.S. Cites Exception in Torture Ban
McCain Law May Not Apply to Cuba Prison

By Josh White and Carol D. Leonnig
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, March 3, 2006; A04

Bush administration lawyers, fighting a claim of torture by a Guantanamo Bay detainee, yesterday argued that the new law that bans cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment of detainees in U.S. custody does not apply to people held at the military prison.

In federal court yesterday and in legal filings, Justice Department lawyers contended that a detainee at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, cannot use legislation drafted by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) to challenge treatment that the detainee's lawyers described as "systematic torture."

Government lawyers have argued that another portion of that same law, the Detainee Treatment Act of 2005, removes general access to U.S. courts for all Guantanamo Bay captives. Therefore, they said, Mohammed Bawazir, a Yemeni national held since May 2002, cannot claim protection under the anti-torture provisions.

Bawazir's attorneys contend that "extremely painful" new tactics used by the government to force-feed him and end his hunger strike amount to torture.

U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler said in a hearing yesterday that she found allegations of aggressive U.S. military tactics used to break the detainee hunger strike "extremely disturbing" and possibly against U.S. and international law. But Justice Department lawyers argued that even if the tactics were considered in violation of McCain's language, detainees at Guantanamo would have no recourse to challenge them in court.

In Bawazir's case, the government claims that it had to forcefully intervene in a hunger strike that was causing his weight to drop dangerously. In January, officials strapped Bawazir into a special chair, put a larger tube than they had previously used through his nose and kept him restrained for nearly two hours at a time to make sure he did not purge the food he was being given, the government and Bawazir's attorneys said.

Richard Murphy Jr., Bawazir's attorney, said his client gave in to the new techniques and began eating solid food days after the first use of the restraint chair. Murphy said the military deliberately made the process painful and embarrassing, noting that Bawazir soiled himself because of the approach.

Kessler said getting to the root of the allegations is an "urgent matter."

"These allegations . . . describe disgusting treatment, that if proven, is treatment that is cruel, profoundly disturbing and violative of" U.S. and foreign treaties banning torture, Kessler told the government's lawyers. She said she needs more information, but made clear she is considering banning the use of larger nasal-gastric tubes and the restraint chair.

In court filings, the Justice Department lawyers argued that language in the law written by Sens. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) and Carl M. Levin (D-Mich.) gives Guantanamo Bay detainees access to the courts only to appeal their enemy combatant status determinations and convictions by military commissions.

"Unfortunately, I think the government's right; it's a correct reading of the law," said Tom Malinowski, Washington advocacy director for Human Rights Watch. "The law says you can't torture detainees at Guantanamo, but it also says you can't enforce that law in the courts."

Thomas Wilner, a lawyer representing several detainees at Guantanamo, agreed that the law cannot be enforced. "This is what Guantanamo was about to begin with, a place to keep detainees out of the U.S. precisely so they can say they can't go to court," Wilner said.

A spokeswoman for McCain's office did not respond to questions yesterday.

Murphy told the judge the military's claims that it switched tactics to protect Bawazir should not be believed. He noted that on Jan. 11 -- days after the new law passed -- the Defense Department made the identical health determination for about 20 other detainees, all of whom had been engaged in the hunger strike.

Guantanamo Bay officials deny that the tactics constitute torture. They wrote in sworn statements that they are necessary efforts to ensure detainee health. Maj. Gen. Jay W. Hood, the facility's commander, wrote that Bawazir's claims of abuse are "patently false."

"In short, he is a trained al Qaida terrorist, who has been taught to claim torture, abuse, and medical mistreatment if captured," Hood wrote. He added that Bawazir allegedly went to Afghanistan to train for jihad and ultimately fought with the Taliban against U.S. troops.

Navy Capt. Stephen G. Hooker, who runs the prison's detention hospital, noted that the hunger strike began on Aug. 8, reached a peak of 131 participants on Sept. 11, and dropped to 84 on Christmas Day. After use of the restraint chair began, only five captives continued not eating.

Hooker wrote that he suspected Bawazir was purging his food after feedings. Bawazir weighed 130 pounds in late 2002, according to Hooker, but 97 pounds on the day he was first strapped to the chair. As of Sunday, his weight was back to 137 pounds, the government said.

Kessler noted with irritation that Hood and Hooker made largely general claims about the group of detainees on the hunger strike in defending the switch to the new force-feeding procedures used on Bawazir.

"I know it's a sad day when a federal judge has to ask a DOJ attorney this, but I'm asking you -- why should I believe them?" Kessler asked Justice Department attorney Terry Henry.

Henry said he would attempt to gather more information from the officials but said there was no legal basis for the court to intervene. Bawazir's weight is back to normal, his health is "robust" and he is no longer on a hunger strike, Henry said.



Something also to keep in mind about Gitmo when you're considering what the Administration is claiming:

REPORT ON GUANTANAMO DETAINEES

1. Fifty-five percent (55%) of the detainees are not determined to have committed any hostile acts against the United States or its coalition allies.

2. Only 8% of the detainees were characterized as al Qaeda fighters. Of the remaining detainees, 40% have no definitive connection with al Qaeda at all and 18% are have no definitive affiliation with either al Qaeda or the Taliban.

4. The Government has detained numerous persons based on mere affiliations with a large number of groups that in fact, are not on the Department of Homeland Security terrorist watchlist. Moreover, the nexus between such a detainee and such organizations varies considerably. Eight percent are detained because they are deemed "fighters for;" 30% considered "members of;" a large majority - 60% -- are detained merely because they are "associated with" a group or groups the Government asserts are terrorist organizations. For 2% of the prisoners their nexus to any terrorist group is unidentified.

5. Only 5% of the detainees were captured by United States forces. 86% of the detainees were arrested by either Pakistan or the Northern Alliance and turned over to United States custody. This 86% of the detainees captured by Pakistan or the Northern Alliance were handed over to the United States at a time in which the United States offered large bounties for capture of suspected enemies.

6. Finally, the population of persons deemed not to be enemy combatants - mostly Uighers - are in fact accused of more serious allegations than a great many persons still deemed to be enemy combatants. large majority – 60% -- are detained merely because they are “associated with” a group or groups the Government asserts are terrorist organizations. For 2% of the prisoners their nexus to any terrorist group is unidentified.

Posted by crimnos @ 1:57 PM :: (0) comments

Missouri Considering Christianity as Official Religion

I have a few friends and regular visitors who are stuck out there, and man, I just have to say I'm so, so sorry for you.

The lawmakers have to know this is unconstitutional, but it still makes sense for them to propose it, even with the wasted resources involved, just to rally their troops in an election year. It also has the fringe benefit of allowing certain politicians to point to the supreme court and make all sorts of accusations: activist judges, lack of democratic process, atheist cabal of liberals, etc. etc. It doesn't matter if any of that is true or not, it only matters that it will stick.

State bill proposes Christianity be Missouri’s official religion
09:24 PM CST on Saturday, March 4, 2006
By John Mills, News 4

Missouri legislators in Jefferson City considered a bill that would name Christianity the state's official "majority" religion.

House Concurrent Resolution 13 has is pending in the state legislature.

Many Missouri residents had not heard about the bill until Thursday.

Karen Aroesty of the Anti-defamation league, along with other watch-groups, began a letter writing and email campaign to stop the resolution.

The resolution would recognize "a Christian god," and it would not protect minority religions, but "protect the majority's right to express their religious beliefs.

The resolution also recognizes that, "a greater power exists," and only Christianity receives what the resolution calls, "justified recognition."

State representative David Sater of Cassville in southwestern Missouri, sponsored the resolution, but he has refused to talk about it on camera or over the phone.

KMOV also contacted Gov. Matt Blunt's office to see where he stands on the resolution, but he has yet to respond.

Posted by crimnos @ 8:31 AM :: (2) comments